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Mild Mannered Reviews - Regular Superman Comics

Superman #655

Superman #655

Scheduled to arrive in stores: July 12, 2006

Cover date: September 2006

Writer: Kurt Busiek
Penciller: Carlos Pacheco
Inker: Jesus Merino

"Cold Comfort"

Neal Bailey Reviewed by: Neal Bailey

Click to enlarge

Arion, centuries previous, basks with two women in bed, in comfort.

His magic thrown into chaos by the Infinite Crisis, he awakens to a vision: "Camelot Falls."

He uses his few working magical devices to watch the future, showing Clark in a plane over Finland.

Clark reads books implanted in the microdots (periods) of the book he's reading, using his new super-intellect to pass the time.

Another reporter named Jeffries holds up the cover to Action Comics #841 (a news article in this story) and explains that he wrote the article. He asks for inside dope on why Clark is going to meet a strange woman (Cassie Llewellyn) he used to know, when he has a wife. Clark rebukes him, telling him that he doesn't like the reporter's magazine, and doesn't think he likes him. The man walks away.

Clark, disturbed by the man's audacity, can't concentrate on his book, so he thinks about a recent visit with Lana Lang.

Lana, freshly minted new CEO of Lexcorp, examines the ruin that Lex left the company in with his scandals. Clark stands by and discusses the situation, pointedly trying to get Lana to reconcile with Pete for little Clark's sake (their son). The divorce is now final and over.

Clark looks about five or six now, and Pete's taken to calling him names other than Clark, Butch or Buster, etc.

Clark feels guilty for being Lana's lost love, for causing Lana's unresolved feelings. As he does, he's called away by a fire, and leaves with Lana's blessing.

South of Ayaguz, Kazakhstan, there's decimation on a massive scale. Hearing Cassie cry out, Clark works his way out through the wheel well and debarks the plane, causing a shudder.

Superman finds Cassie injured, but alive, taking her to safety just as a gas line ruptures and explodes.

Superman takes others to safety, and just as he finishes, a fist strikes out of nowhere, knocking Superman backwards and giving him the taste of blood in his mouth.

He has Cassie explain as he regroups and searches, using super-hearing to hear her from a distance.

She tells him that Subjekt 17 was a leftover from Soviet Russia that she was hired to shut down. Afraid of what would happen when she did, she held a press conference, knowing that Clark would come, and therefore Superman would be handy.

Musing on this, Superman starts to brawl with 17.

Arion watches, realizes that he's dead in our time period, and decides to go to the future to help them stop meddling with forces they don't understand...

2Story - 2: You know, honestly, I'm beginning to think about taking back the praise I tossed Busiek's way with Johns back there, judging from these last two issues I've seen. Nothing personal to the man, but I hope he's building to something here. These last two issues have been real stock affairs, not really anything special or epic, and it's very stereotypical...

The Auctioneer? Subjekt 17?

You know what that reminds me of? For those of you who have memory blocks on this, I apologize in advance, but this reminds me of Joe Casey.

I believe that Superman is a character who's defined by his villains and his supporting cast now. His powers are defined, his character is pretty much infallible and set. You really have to work to challenge who he is.

So you pretty well better have a good supporting cast and a more than decent villain. That's why so much effort over the years has gone into creating new, great adversaries for Superman. Ruin. Doomsday. Conduit. The... Millenium Giants. Many hits, many misses, but undoubtedly and obviously, the hits are the ones that take place over a long arc, work as a sub-story, and don't last for one or two issues and fade away.

Remember, and this is hazy, but remember that politician guy who could influence public opinion against the Man of Steel that Casey made? That's the feel I got off this issue.

You have Darkseid, Luthor, Brainiac, Doomsday, Metallo, Prankster, Joker, Talia, HUNDREDS of great villains fans dig and die for, so why are we looking at the archetypical SUBJEKT 17 and The Auctioneer?

The usual answer to this, in my estimation, is two factors. As I said, new villain fervor, and also when an artist wants to make their personal mark on Supes by creating things in his mythos. But that's not the game. The game is a good story. These guys will be GONE long before Superman is, and honestly, while I find it neat and awe-inspiring to learn that Wolfman created Cat Grant, that's not the point of Cat Grant.

But beyond the fact that the story is archetypical in many ways and nothing new, there are the story and writing issues I had problems with.

One, focus on characters other than Supes who are not compelling. Cassie could very easily have been Lori Lemaris, struck a harder chord, and made for a more interesting story. Subjekt 17 could have been that Azarello whatever the heck it was, Equus? The horse guy. Or better, DOOMSDAY. We didn't see him imprisoned at the end of the Infinite Crisis. And Doomsday is stereotypical as well right now given his oft-usage. I guess what I'm getting at is that the focus was on sowing new oats when the oats are sown for many good villains, let's get to the story here.

The emphasis on the super-brain to no apparent end bugs me. What does having a super-intellect add to Superman beyond a complexity of character that's hard to adapt to? For instance, now every time he misses something that he should remember, that we remember, the writer then looks incredibly stupid. It's like soul vision, and while I see the point that it had in the last story, what did it serve in this story?

He puts micro-dots into books to read books while he's on the plane. "A few." Why not simply bring the books? Or read them and write on the plane? If he's going to do that, why not have a computer program with e-books so he can read thousands, etcetera? These are the wrinkles the super-brain adds that pulls you out of the story.

The "y'know" bit fell flat and didn't work for me. Mostly because it took me four readings to get that the multiple "y'know"s weren't just typographical and mockery, and also, because that's not Clark Kent and not Superman. When he's disgusted with someone, he tries to show them a better example, or he timidly backs down. That's part of the dude. He doesn't say, "Look, Mr. Jeffries. I don't like your paper -- y'know - and I don't think I like you. Callie Llewellyn and I knew each other years ago, but we were never more than colleagues. That's all there is to it, y'know?"

That's what a jock does. Mockery to put someone back in their place while getting angry at what they say instead of assessing it like a man who deals with the frustrated violent on a constant basis and realizes that the only solution to an affronter is a solid patience.

And then the really, really funky part of this story.

Lana as CEO of Lexcorp? WHAT? WHAT?

That makes about as much sense as making Perry White the new director of Project Cadmus.

She is a HOUSEWIFE/WAITRESS who has lived in SMALLVILLE until her husband became the vice president. As that happened, she very publicly split from him.

So she 1) Can't hold a marriage together. 2) Was an awful first wife. 3) Didn't have career ambitions.

You're Lexcorp's board of directors, do you instantly hire this woman?

And popcorn gallery, don't shoot my nasty letters. Pete Ross is a far more incompetent boob in this situation, flubbing the presidency, siding with Lex, giving his kid a weird point is, Lana's not qualified for this position. Not in this continuity. And wouldn't get it.

AND, you know, there is that little fact that Lex Luthor TORTURED LANA SENSELESS. She might have a few ISSUES working for his company and trying to make it solvent. Issues that would be better resolved in this issue than Jeffries hinting that Clark's infidelities will be exposed and having Clark go postal about it. Just saying.

Where's little Clark in all this? Alone, at home, with Pete?

This is, and I hate to say it because it's going to get me flak, but this is another example of arbitrarily taking a perfectly good, wholesome, SOLID female character and elevating her in stress, status, and position for the sake of creating a "positive" female role model. Or maybe it's just arbitrary drama. Either way, it's arbitrary. And if this is a good step for Lana's character, what of her kid?

What's with the Superman mythos lately and not giving a solid frick for the fate of the kid?

Clark chides her for not attempting to reconcile with Pete, that's good, but then the writing turns it into a reason for Clark to feel guilty, per Smallville. Oh, Lana fell in love with HIM, therefore it's HIS fault that their marriage fell apart, this despite the fact that Clark saved their kid's life, made it very clear they wouldn't be together, and has been a good, solid influence for their whole relationship.

Nah, it's Clark's fault.

How about, if you're going to make Clark righteously angry, you have him read Lana the riot act for messing up her marriage, bombing the life of her little kid, and taking on responsibilities she can't even comprehend.

But oooh! Lana's Lexcorp's new CEO! See why this didn't play for me? At all?

There were a few bright spots. Figuring out how Clark would get out of a plane in motion was AWESOME, and well done. Also, Busiek has a great eye for how Superman is procedurally in the fight. He saves the civilians, he doesn't pause to hear Cassie monologue, he has her speak while he's seeking the monster, and he states explicitly he's fighting the monster, but he wants to communicate with it instead. AWESOME, and spot-on for character.

The problem is, that's almost lost when you're spacing through Subjekt's insanely typical origin, caring less for Cassie, and wondering how the heck an eighteenth string character, Arion, is going to factor into this at all.

I WANT to like Busiek's run. The Up, Up, and Away series really gave him a ton of Superman capital, if you will, with me, where I can take sub-par and run with it, trusting his writing skill.

These last two issues give me the distinct impression that it was Johns, and maybe Busiek's shaky here. I wish him the best, but the next few issues will decide a lot, and this is not a great start.

I liked his earlier work I've read, I really did, but this...this needs some craft.

3Art - 3: A bit dark, but reminiscent of the good, early Byrne work in ways. Also, the sense of scene is very strong. Clark remembering Lana is very tactfully done on the part of the art, and Superman in action is actually pretty realistic and evocative of real life action to me. Good work, so far. Nothing really STAND-OUT, but telling the story well, and I know who everyone is well, you don't stop to see anything horrible, and it's enjoyable. It's not WOW, which is why I'm sticking towards average, but nothing stinky here, either.

1Cover Art - 1: Words on a cover is like snakes on a plane, and Samuel L. Jackson ain't having it without a proper context. Here, it's satirical looking, but you can't tell. The cover is also a very awkward pose, no one gives a crap about Subjekt 17 because of this cover, and I find myself wondering how someone from All-Star Superman got buried in this cover on accident.

And if words weren't enough, how stereotypically AWFUL can the words get. Oy.

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